A passenger is rushed to an ambulance in Garden City after...

A passenger is rushed to an ambulance in Garden City after being shot by Colin Ferguson on Dec. 7, 1993. Credit: Newsday/Al Raia

Lisa Combatti was seven months pregnant when she boarded the 5:33 p.m. Long Island Rail Road train at Penn Station on Dec. 7, 1993. As it pulled into the Merillon Avenue Station in Garden City that evening, Colin Ferguson started his rampage, pulling out a 9-mm semi-automatic pistol and ultimately killing six passengers and wounding 19, including Combatti.

"At this time of year, it's always at the forefront," said Combatti, who was shot in the buttocks. Her unborn child was not harmed.

"It's like a little black cloud that follows me until it passes, until the 7th passes," she said. "I'm always thinking about the families that lost individuals."

Now 63, Combatti reflected on her approach to life, one that involved resolutely continuing to commute to and from Manhattan, where she works at Deutsche Bank, sometimes "deliberately" taking the 5:33 "because I felt as if I was not going to let my life be taken from me. I needed to move forward. It was my way of saying I'm going to win this battle."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The 30th anniversary of the LIRR mass shooting by Colin Ferguson is Dec. 7.
  • Ferguson killed six passengers and wounded 19 others as the 5:33 p.m. train from Penn Station pulled into the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City.
  • Ferguson is serving a sentence of 315 years and 8 months at the Mid-State Correctional Facility in upstate Marcy.

Debra Weber, who was shot in the thigh, said she doesn't want to be called a victim. She is instead a survivor.

"I'm more resilient. I have a deeper faith in God. I am grateful," said Weber, a former Garden City resident who now lives in southern Virginia with her family. 

As the 30th anniversary of the shooting approaches, several survivors cited their gratitude for having lived through the ordeal, with some drawing on their religious faith. The impact of the random, violent nature of the crime also reached many others who were not on the train that night. The shooting, which preceded the mass shootings that have become rampant in recent years, shook Long Island and the country.

In the years since the shooting, the LIRR says it has worked to restore riders' sense of safety.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR's parent, added surveillance cameras to fleets of train cars and a passenger emergency intercom is in each car to enable communication with conductors and engineers, said Kayla Shults, an MTA spokesperson. Shults said a state law enacted in 1995 also allows police officers to travel on the LIRR and Metro-North rail lines without charge.

Seared into memory

The memory of that day is still fresh in the minds of many. 

Ferguson, now 65, was only stopped in his rampage when he was tackled and pinned to the floor by three riders on the train, then taken into custody by police. He later elected to defend himself at trial, rejecting an insanity defense and instead blaming an unknown white man for the shooting. He engaged in rambling monologues and bizarre questioning that tested the patience of Judge Donald E. Belfi, angered his testifying victims and ultimately helped convince the jury to convict him.

Ferguson is imprisoned in Mid-State Correctional Facility in upstate Marcy, serving a sentence of 315 years and 8 months.

LIRR shooter Colin Ferguson in court on Dec. 10, 1993.

LIRR shooter Colin Ferguson in court on Dec. 10, 1993. Credit: Newsday/Dick Yarwood

At his sentencing, the LIRR gunman, who showed no remorse throughout the trial, said, "I hope that somewhere down the road I will be forgotten."

Survivors of the shooting and their families, however, say they will never forget what happened that day and how it changed the direction of their lives. 

Arlene Locicero, 84, the mother of Amy Federici, a 27-year-old widow fatally shot by Ferguson, said she and her husband, Jack, 89, have turned their focus to working with organ donors to help others live.

Federici, who had lived in Mineola and lost her husband to cancer the year before, was shot in the neck. The bullet severed a major artery to her brain, and she died five days later.

"Much has been said about the mass shootings by any number of people who have experienced it one way or another," her mother noted, but added that her attention is "on God and ways to help people live."

"I'm a born-again Christian," said Locicero, who lives in Hawthorne, New Jersey.

"Our hope is that Amy, as an organ donor, would be an inspiration for others to help people live, not to die. That's paramount in our lives and has been since she passed," she said of the family, which includes her younger daughter, Carrie. 

Locicero said Federici's heart, kidneys and liver were donated. At the time, she said the family's focus was: "What can we do to save others?"

Carolyn McCarthy wipes a tear at a graveside service at the...

Carolyn McCarthy wipes a tear at a graveside service at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury. McCarthy's husband of 27 years, Dennis McCarthy, was killed in the LIRR shooting. Credit: Newsday/Don Jacobsen

Shooting sparked advocacy

The shooting prompted some, like Thomas McDermott, to become involved in gun control advocacy. But McDermott, a lawyer, who was shot in the shoulder on the train, feels the gun lobby's resistance to change is a powerful obstacle. 

"The gun industry is so powerful in this country that any effort, or an attempt to try to get gun control to really take hold in this country, is such an uphill battle," said McDermott, a former Garden City resident who moved to Mattituck. Now 80, McDermott said he has ceded gun control activism to a new generation. 

"My participation ended," McDermott said, "because I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel … I've done what I think is my best. Let a new group take it over.

"The opponent is so well-heeled financially," he said of the gun industry. "It's a battle that needs to be fought, but the victory is very far in the distance."

Many of the survivors credited the gun control work of former U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy — whose husband, Dennis, was killed on the train and son, Kevin, severely injured — and that of Joyce Gorycki of Mineola, whose husband, James, also was killed.

Joyce Gorycki, left, then-Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and family members of...

Joyce Gorycki, left, then-Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and family members of the victims of the LIRR shooting hang wreaths in 2013 on the 20th anniversary of the shooting at the Merillon Avenue station. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

McCarthy, who served in Congress from 1997 until her retirement in 2015, representing the 4th Congressional District as a Democrat, succeeded in getting background checks and the ban on some assault weapons, but not on outlawing large-capacity ammunition clips and exploding bullets like those used in the LIRR shooting.

McCarthy, on the 25th anniversary of the LIRR shooting, reflected on the number of mass shootings that have taken place since, particularly the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of 20 students and six teachers. She told Newsday: "Newtown, when I was in Congress, probably hit me the hardest because there were so many children. In Congress they said they offered their thoughts and prayers. I just felt like screaming out, 'Enough! Enough!'"

McCarthy could not be reached for comment for this story.

Weber said family members who have lost loved ones continue to suffer after mass shootings. "The problems are there long after these school shootings that we need to overcome as a community," Weber said. "We have to." 

Lisa Combatti with her daughter, Kimberly, 29, in an undated photo....

Lisa Combatti with her daughter, Kimberly, 29, in an undated photo. Lisa Combatti was seven months pregnant with Kimberly when she boarded the 5:33 p.m. Long Island Rail Road train in Penn Station on Dec. 7, 1993. Credit: Combatti family

Combatti said she wished for "less hate in the world, and that we could stop hearing about mass shootings."

Seeing miracles in survival

Some who felt bullets rip through their bodies spoke of miracles: of their survival; of being able to continue with their lives; of being able to raise families.

"There's not a day I don't feel blessed," Combatti said.

Kimberly Combatti, the daughter Lisa Combatti was pregnant with when she boarded the train, will turn 30 in February and is planning her wedding next year.

Her family members, Lisa Combatti said, "have been my rock," citing in addition to her daughter her husband, Greg, and son, Daniel, 27.

McDermott said a doctor treating his gunshot wound to the shoulder was "stunned that major damage was not inflicted." 

Weber recalled how close she was to other passengers who were killed. She said she had been sitting in the same three-seat row with James Gorycki, with her on the aisle. They both put their belongings on the middle seat. "Dennis McCarthy was directly behind me. Richie [Richard] Nettleton was in front of me. All three were killed."

Debra Weber, who was injured in the 1993 LIRR mass...

Debra Weber, who was injured in the 1993 LIRR mass shooting, with her son, Matthew, and husband, Bob. Credit: Weber family

Weber said she just happened to lean forward to put her book away and pick up packages when something knocked her off her feet, which she later thought was a ricocheting bullet. "That saved my life." She said the bullet that did strike her directly entered her outer thigh, then exited through her inner thigh. 

"No matter what, I consider it a miracle," she said, adding that "the main miracle" came when, on the first anniversary of the shooting, she found out she was pregnant after years of infertility treatments. 

For Weber, moving forward is about focusing "on the positive. That's what you have to do."

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